PHOENIX -- A federal judge on Friday blocked lawmakers from cutting off family planning funds for Planned Parenthood solely because the organization also performs abortions.
Judge Neil Wake rejected arguments by attorneys for the state that it could cut off funding for family planning -- including federal Medicaid dollars -- by simply determining that abortion providers are not qualified. He said federal law gives Medicaid recipients the right to choose among all qualified providers "without government interference.'' And he said lawmakers cannot simply decide that Planned Parenthood is not a "qualified'' provider simply performs abortions outside the Medicaid program and without federal dollars.
"A state's determination of whether a provider is qualified must relate to its ability to deliver Medicaid services,'' Wake wrote in his 28-page ruling.
In fact, Wake pointed out that Steven Aden, a lawyer for the anti-abortion Alliance Defending Freedom, named a special assistant attorney general to defend the law, has never argued that Planned Parenthood is unqualified to perform family planning services. Instead, the state is saying Planned Parenthood can continue to be a family planning provider -- but only if it stops performing abortions or creates a separate legal entity.
That argument -- and the underlying law -- is based on the contention by state lawmakers that giving any public money to Planned Parenthood effectively subsidizes abortions.
As part of its participation in Medicaid, Arizona provides family planning services for needy women. The federal government picks up 90 percent of the cost, with the state covering the balance.
And both state and federal law specifically bar the use of public funds for abortions that are not medically necessary.
But Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, who sponsored the legislation, said if the government gives money to help Planned Parenthood pay for its other expenses, that frees up that cash for abortions.
Wake was unpersuaded.
"This argument ignores evidence that Planned Parenthood Arizona complies with all federal and state requirements to ensure that public funds are not used for abortion services,'' the judge wrote, something he said is supported by the fact Planned Parenthood has participated in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's Medicaid program, for more than 20 years.
And Wake noted that Planned Parenthood is a "fee for service'' provider, meaning it bills AHCCCS only for the specific services it provides to patients.
Wake's ruling is not a final word on the law but simply bars the state from enforcing it while the issues are litigated. But the judge said it was necessary to issue the injunction to ensure that that patients can continue to see the health care providers of choice while that fight goes on.
Olson said he is "disappointed'' by the ruling, saying he anticipates an appeal. Nor is giving up on efforts to cut public funds for Planned Parenthood.
"I will continue to push the envelope for the unborn and to continue to protect the taxpayers from the procedures they find reprehensible,'' he said.
Olson also dismissed Wake's finding that there was no evidence of cross-subsidization of abortion.
"We don't have convincingly strong evidence there is not,'' he said.
He conceded that would involve requiring Planned Parenthood to prove a negative. And he said if that's impossible, that's the reason for the law in the first place.
"Round One goes to Planned Parenthood,'' said Cathi Herrod. She is president of the Center for Arizona Policy which helped craft the legislation.